One of the best parts of writing this blog has been the experience of connecting with other dental professionals, literally around the world, who are also passionate about real-food nutrition and the Paleo lifestyle. I recently had the pleasure of connecting with Dr. Alvin Danenberg, a Periodontist at Beaufort Family Dentistry in Beaufort, South Carolina. Upon learning about Paleo nutrition, Dr. Danenberg made changes to his own diet and is now in the process of incorporating a nutrition program into his practice. In my opinion, Dr. Danenberg is a true mover and shaker in the dental world and I wanted to know more!
How did you discover Paleo nutrition?
I am 66 years old. I thought for the last 10+ years I was doing great with my personal health – I ate whole grains and low fat foods, drank skim milk, practiced Yoga three days a week, and did some cardio on weekends – yes, I thought I was doing pretty well for an old guy. To help me get the facts together, I enrolled in a 5-day course at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. The course was titled, Nutrition Intensive for Health Professionals. The speakers were experts in their respective fields, and I knew I would learn a lot. The first day of the program on April 7, 2013 turned my world upside down. I learned that everything I was doing for myself health-wise was wrong! I learned that grains were the worst foods I could put into my body. I learned that saturated fats from pastured animals were the best fats. I learned that the hours of cardio did not improve my health, and that the medicines that I was taking for my blood chemistries were not in my best interest. I learned that understanding evolutionary nutrition might be the path to preventing and possibly curing most of today’s degenerative diseases. What a mind-blowing experience those 5 days were at the Kripalu Center.
Many hear about Paleo, but never actually give it a try. What resonated with you and compelled you to change your diet?
I learned that there are societies in the world today that have never been exposed to processed foods and grains from a westernized diet (Standard American Diet). These people never developed the degenerative diseases that we have in the United States. I also learned that there are societies today that never had degenerative diseases until they were exposed to the Standard American Diet. These people now suffer from rampant diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Wow!
I needed to test this information for myself. If I had taken the time out of my busy professional life to attend this course, I needed to find out if this worked for me. I was taking blood pressure and cholesterol meds, which I wanted to stop if at all possible. The first day of the course I completely eliminated grains and legumes from my diet. When I returned home, I had to convince my wife that we needed to change our ways. That was not the easiest thing to do. However, she believed in what I wanted to try and agreed to a 30-day test period. So, we opened our pantry and removed all of the processed foods that we had. I donated 8 grocery bags to my local Food Bank. We began buying only fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and wild-caught and free-range animal products. I began to become the chef in our kitchen, which was fun and easy.
What changes did you experience after going Paleo?
When I attended the nutrition program I weighed 176 pounds, and I am only 5’ 7”. Within the first 2 weeks I lost 7 pounds. It has now been 4 months since changing my lifestyle, and I now weigh 161 pounds and have lost 2” in my waist. I stopped my cholesterol meds as soon as I completed the course at Kripalu, and three months after that I had blood work done. My triglycerides fell from 120 to 90 and my HDL rose from 48 to 54 – all good numbers. I will learn more when I have blood work repeated in three months. I also have begun a different exercise program using Tony Horton’s 10-Minute Trainer program a couple of days a week and a 20-minute High Intensity Interval Training program twice a week. I must tell you, I feel great. And, I am excited about the future results getting better and better.
Your personal success with Paleo has led you to create a program for your patients. What does your program offer?
My Power Nutrition Program is basically a Paleo lifestyle program. There are some differences in my Program compared to a strict Paleo Diet. Specifically, I recommend fermented foods to help repopulate healthy bacteria in the gut. Especially for people that do not have an issue with dairy, I recommend raw milk kefir, which is fermented raw milk. I also don’t recommend hard-boiled or scrambled eggs because of the oxidized cholesterol in cooked egg yolks. What I do offer in my Program is frequent support and monitoring for my patients.
One of the hygienists in my office attended another nutrition course with me to help her get educated. It was the annual Food as Medicine conference, which was a 4-day program held in Indianapolis in June of this year. This hygienist will do most of the follow-up monitoring with my nutrition patients.
We will see patients on my program weekly for the first 4 weeks, and then every other week for the next 12 weeks. At these appointments, the nutritional hygienist will review how they are doing, take some measurements, recommend some lab work, and answer their questions and tweak their personal programs as necessary. We will offer encouragement all along the way until hopefully they are ready to proceed on their own for the rest of their healthier lives.
How did you prepare your office staff for introducing your program? Are they on board with the idea? Have you met any resistance from your staff?
After taking the Nutrition Intensive course at Kripalu and Food as Medicine conference in Indianapolis, I presented an hour program for all the doctors and staff in my office. I told my personal story and how I made improvements in my own health only after several months. I emphasized how changing the foods we eat would improve overall health and most importantly change the unhealthy bacteria in the gut and oral cavity into healthier forms. Paleolithic and Mesolithic man and woman did not have periodontal disease or dental decay. Why do you think that is?
Today, 6 staff members out of approximately 15 are following my Program. Realistically most people will be reluctant to jump on board. They have many years of eating the way they are comfortable. They also are engaged in a social life that may make it difficult for them to make changes if they are not motivated to do so. I have found that some people will only make a change after something compelling in their lives requires a change – like the diagnosis of a serious illness, or the birth of a grandchild, or the death of a friend or relative to a degenerative disease that was avoidable if treated earlier with a healthier lifestyle. However, I have found that health-oriented individuals discover making a change to a Paleo lifestyle is a logical progression for them.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Paleo?
People think Paleo is difficult. It is not difficult; it is only different. Also, people think Paleo is expensive. It does not have to be expensive. As a matter of fact, when you prepare most of your own food, it is much cheaper than buying processed meals and eating out much of the time. People think that you can’t dine out and socialize if you eat Paleo. But, when you want to eat out, it is very easy to find foods on almost any menu from almost any restaurant you can enjoy if you only understand what you are trying to avoid. And when you get your friends excited, there will be much socializing while eating delicious and eye-appealing Paleo meals together.
Dr. Alvin Danenberg graduated from the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1972 and received his Specialty Certification in Periodontics from the University of Maryland School of Graduate Dentistry in 1974. Dr. Danenberg served as Chief of Periodontics at the Charleston Air Force Base from 1974 through 1976 when he left the Air Force and opened his own practice in Charleston, South Carolina. He was also a Clinical Professor in the Department of Periodontology at the Medical University of South Carolina from 1974 to 1981.
Dr. Danenberg has been an active member of numerous dental and periodontal professional organizations including the American Academy of Periodontology and the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. He is also currently an active member of the American Dental Association.